Because I sadly didn’t get to attend Catalyst Conference this year, I asked my friend Brandon Smith about reflections that he hopes to apply to his college ministry. (I hope we’re all able to “translate” good ideas into good college ministry ideas!) He graciously wrote some thoughts and let me post them here!
When Benson originally asked me to share some insights from the recent Catalyst Conference and how those insights might apply to college ministry, I froze. I drank so deeply from the well at Catalyst that simply choosing one or two insights would be nearly impossible. However, ideas shared at Catalyst have begun conversations within the campus ministry I serve. And it is our responsibility to ensure those conversations translate into action.
One of the most stimulating thoughts I absorbed at Catalyst came from a man named Shane Hipps. Shane served as an advertising executive for Porsche several years ago before God led him to become a Mennonite pastor. Shane stated that we, as Christian leaders, have often heard the phrase, “Methods change; but the Message must never change.” As college ministers, we probably understand this better than most.
Shane, though, challenges this statement. Tapping into his marketing knowledge, he made this simple statement: “The method is the message.”
Before you stop reading this post and start writing Shane an angry email, let’s think about this. If I walk through campus with a student and I turn to them and say, “I love you,” they would be hearing a nice message from me. But, let’s pretend I am punching them repeatedly on the shoulder as I state my love. This method conflicts with my message. Which are they going to hear? The words I say or the method in which I say them? (I actually illustrated this with a student…he said he “definitely” heard the punches louder than my words!)
This same idea could be illustrated in sharing the Gospel. As college ministers, hopefully we are striving to create relationships with non-believing students in order to earn their trust and thus, earn the opportunity to share the Gospel. If we do this well, the students will at least be open to hearing our message.
But what about the loud street preacher who comes to your campus? You know, the one guy who yells into a megaphone while stomping around and sweating profusely in front of the Student Union Building on your campus? He is sharing the same Gospel we are sharing; that we are sinners in need of the redemption that only Jesus offers. Yet, why do few seem to respond to his loud message, while others are at least open to our message?
Because, as Shane would say, the method is the message. What we say is important, but so is how we say it. If our message and our method is consistent, people will listen and not be confused. However, if our message and our method conflict, the method always yells louder.
As college ministers, we must begin to ask ourselves and our students if our message and our method are consistent. If we are proclaiming love, are we loving? If we are proclaiming grace, are we gracious? If we are proclaiming forgiveness, are we forgiving?
Another similar idea was related at Catalyst from the mouth of Rob Bell. He stated that we are called to be “a Eucharist” to our communities and, in our case, our campuses. Rob points out that there are two Greek words that make up our one English word “Eucharist:” good and gift. Jesus broke his body and shed his blood and they are the “good gift.” When we celebrate the Eucharist, we celebrate these good gifts. Similarly, as we follow Jesus, we are also called to offer ourselves as a “good gift” to others. Philippians 2 outlines how He did it (and how we can, too).
If we will adopt the method of servanthood on our campuses, the message of a servant-Savior will be received. We can proclaim the “good gifts” of Jesus’ body and blood (and God as the Good Giver) if we will offer ourselves as a good gift to our campuses.
How this will express itself will differ from campus to campus. We have had this conversation at the Christian Campus House at Northwest Missouri State University, and it is bearing fruit in various ways. Students are partnering together to sponsor children through Compassion International. Some are leading the way in a supplies drive to meet the needs of the local women and children’s shelter. Our ministry is heading up a massive, campus-wide funds and awareness campaign to address the global issue of clean water shortages. At the very least, our students are more aware that their message and their method must be unswerving.
However it expresses itself, we need to be asking the question: “Is our method and our message consistent?” If not, what are we really saying? And, more than that, what are people hearing?